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Do film awards actually represent the audience?

Do film awards actually represent the audience?

Film awards have falling viewing figures and a clash between critically acclaimed and massively popular films, but maybe that’s changing?

It’s award season and the yearly debate about who deserves what accolade has begun. There are sure to be victory speeches and disappointed glances to camera, but in all the glamour and glory, audiences could get left behind.

It’s long been a tradition that the nominees for some of the most prestigious award ceremonies in the world are made up of artistic and creatively driven projects that might not have quite connected with mainstream audiences. Financial success is only part of the picture and awards cannot take into account simply what sells well.

"In all the glamour and glory, audiences could get left behind"

But is there more to this story? Is there a reason as to why audiences are increasingly becoming disillusioned with awards, with ratings dropping and interest evaporating? Are there projects that should perhaps be nominated that don’t get the nod they deserve? 

Critics versus mainstream appeal 

It’s fair to say that there is an increasing gap emerging between what’s popular in both TV and film, and what critics are loving. Occasionally those two things intersect, but even then, it doesn’t seem to translate at awards season.

The beloved Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul, for example, became a critical darling and a must-watch show that delighted audiences with its tense script and beautiful cinematography. While social media buzz and ratings were always consistent, the show received six Golden Globe nominations, 46 Emmy nominations and yet not a single win. Based on the audience’s perception it should have surely gotten over the line, but it came to an end without that staple win.  

Some of the largest fictional franchises in the world are yet to get a massive win on the big stage. Financial success seems to be quite the sticking point. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently the most popular film series, helping to protect smaller cinemas and boasting stunning performances from former Academy Award winners.  

There was once a time where Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King won best picture, but the closest current genre fans have come recently is perhaps the first Black Panther. The animation categories might be one of the few areas where that gap has been closed, with indie hits and mega studio classics sitting side-by-side, and with fans always spotting one of their favourites among the line-up.  

Personal stories or self-congratulatory?

On the whole though critics are marvelling at those pictures telling personal stories. There have been worthy winners that are stunningly developed character pieces. But there have also been those movies that are obsessed with Hollywood and become self-congratulatory, as evidenced by La La Land and The Fabelmans awards runs.

"Isn’t there room for a range of structures that can nod towards both genre franchises and critical darlings?  "

Audiences and critics are clearly watching different things and when they do intersect, that shared interest isn’t always acknowledged outside of a select few categories like animation. That isn’t to criticise those pictures which have made it to the big stage in the past. But isn’t there room for a wider range of structures that can nod towards both genre franchises and critical darlings?  

Experimenting with the formula  

It’s a matter of public record that awards seasons are becoming less and less important in the minds of the modern audience. The ratings of each ceremony have dropped year on year, with the most talked about moments usually linked to personal dramas rather than any particular wins. That problem is usually addressed through packing a show with star power and a guest host that might bring in new viewers. In truth, it's rarely reflected in the nominations themselves.  

Oscars

There are occasionally examples to attempt to get audiences on side, such as the Oscars’ “Best Cheer Moments” category, which fans could actually vote for themselves. But they have never made any real difference, with a vast array of nominations not quite finding the right balance.  

But there is a catch to all this. Experiment with the formula too much and awards season could be transformed forever. Right now, the hard work of some of the most inventive filmmakers in the world is celebrated on a big stage, in spite of financial success. That’s important to remember. Big studios and action blockbusters cannot take over the system and thus there must be equilibrium.  

What needs to change

One positive change was the recognition throughout awards season of projects made for streaming services. Those movies that were accessible to everyone, but do not feature any less creative originality than those traditionally nominated. This year, for example, the much-celebrated animated picture The Sea Beast gets its chance in the spotlight after releasing on Netflix. Those choices to modernise will begin to build bridges with audiences again, as our consuming habits continue to change. 

But it has to be about the bigger nominations as well. And perhaps those changes have already begun. This year’s “Best Picture” Oscar category is a brilliant display of how audiences and critics can be brought together.  

"One positive change was the recognition of projects made for streaming services"

The small-scale and stunningly acted The Banshees of Inisherin made the list, but is also available to watch on Disney+. The Fabelmans, Tár and Elvis all represent critical darlings which meet the usual conditions of an Oscar nomination. Everything Everywhere All At Once, Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick are all financially massive entries that audiences have adored and are still examples of top quality filmmaking.  

On top of all of that, 16 first-time acting nominees have been honoured, demonstrating a passing of the torch toward talent that current generations have grown up watching.  

Does award season represent the audience?

So does award season actually represent us, the audience? That’s up to each individual viewer, but clearly changes are continuing to be made to ensure that more and more people see something they love up on those nominations list.

It’s never going to be perfect, but when diverse talents of multiple generations get showcased from the full spectrum of financial success, major franchises and indie critical hits, that’s a lot closer to what audiences want to see.  

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